Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism, by Charles Hill
This book is part of a Hoover Institution project styled the Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, the purpose of which is “a deeper understanding of the struggle in Islam between Muslims keen to protect the rule of reason and the gains of modernity and those determined to deny the Islamic world its place in the modern international order of states”. In this, it does a fairly good job, primarily tracing the world order from the founding of Islam in the early Middle Ages through the re-ordering mandated by the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War through all of the various attempts to upset that order including the current attempt by the Islamist opponents of order. Much of this history was familiar to me from other readings, so the most interesting part of the book was the author’s attempt to describe how we might proceed from here, post-9/11. In doing so, Hill describes six issues on which the Islamists and the West are at odds and the potential for resolution of the differences in each case. Good analysis, but not much encouragement.
Why Niebuhr Now?, by John Patrick Diggins
I have long been fascinated by the theology and philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr, but he is a dense and difficult read for me. This relatively short book helped me greatly in understanding his thought. The “why” of the title involves the currently popular position Niebuhr’s thought seems to hold among leading politicians and thinkers on the issues involving America’s role in the world. The author carefully works through the theological and philosophical points, comments on how Niebuhr’s theology affected his worldview, and then closes with arguments on the misuse of Niebuhr’s legacy from both the political right and left. Very well done.
The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam, by Jonathan Riley-Smith
This turned out to be a really fun and I believe important little book. Essentially it chronicles the vast mythology, half-truths, and manufactured truths about the Crusades, largely distorted by the language and imagery of 19th century European imperialism and the beliefs of 20th century Muslims, traces this legacy into modern times, and clarifies them one by one. The author, a widely-respected scholar in Middle Eastern history and a recognized expert on the Crusades, has been fighting an uphill battle for the truth in these matters for most of his career, with little help it seems.
God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition, by Alasdair MacIntyre
MacIntyre has been a big favorite of mine from the time I first read his After Virtue many years ago. I have also gained enormous respect for the Catholic intellectual tradition over the years and MacIntyre does a great job in chronicling the history of the development of this tradition and the evolution of the core elements of Catholic philosophical thought, in particular its assimilation of reason and faith. He then describes and bemoans the disintegration of the core curriculum caused by the specialization driven by the advent of the large research university model and the resulting deterioration of the unity of the shared enterprise among the disciplines, a concern which I share.